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- the connoisseur's guide to France
above : A
perfect thunderstorm builds up over Paris on a hot summer's afternoon
Intense heat warning
2019 was the
hottest summer ever recorded in France, with maxima
in excess of 40° Celsius (105° F) in many cities, including
Paris, Strasbourg, Lyon, Reims, Tours, Bordeaux, Toulouse and many more
parts. Maxima of over 43° were recorded in some places
and a peak of 45.9°
Nîmes on 28th June, the hottest temperature ever recorded in France.
Photo: the searing
heat experienced in many parts of France late June was repeated
in July.... but not every day.
Bordered by four seas
(the North Sea, the Channel,
Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean), by three mountain ranges (the
Alps, the Jura and the Pyrenees), and the edge of the central European
lowlands, France is a country with very diverse climatic conditions,
resulting in very different weather patterns. When visiting France, it
is often usful to consult the weather forecast! The variety of France's
weather patterns is further complicated by ongoing climate change and
global warming, which in recent years have lead to a surprising number
of unexpected and extreme weather conditions.
Like many places on
Earth, France has weather conditions that are strongly influenced by
barometric pressure: low pressure tends to leave France open to the
influence of the Atlantic airstream, bringing with it clouds and rain;
but when a ridge of high pressure builds up over the heart of western
Europe, a large part of France, sometimes even the whole country, can
be protected from the prevailing westerlies under a vast covering of
dry air, often accompanied by winds from the east.
short, the weather in France is determined by the balance of power
between oceanic weather systems from the west, and continental
anticyclones from the east.
It is the differing relative influence of
these systems that determine the two main climate zones of France, and
within these two zones the different sub-zones.
These zones can be seen in the map on the left. In the western and north-western
half of France, stretching from the Belgian border to the Pyrenees, the
climate is generally oceanic
In Atlantic and northern regions, the
influence of Atlantic weather systems is predominant; but further south
and east, the influence of Atlantic weather systems diminishes.
The zones on the map are not fixed: the map shows the
dominant type of climate over the year, but borders can move.
For instance when strong weather systems move in from the Atlantic,
virtually the whole of France enjoys (or otherwise, as the case may be)
an oceanic climate.
practical terms, this means that the western areas of France benefit
from a mild climate, with moderate rainfall possible at all times of
the year. The "oceanic" area, and notably Brittany, jutting out into
the Atlantic, has a particularly mild climate, but can be quite rainy
even in summer months - though this is not always the case by any
means. The semi-oceanic
, also called the intermediate area, has
less rainfall particularly in summer, as it is more often under the
influence of continental high-pressure systems. This band includes the
great cereal growing regions of France, Champagne, the Beauce (south of
Paris) and the Midi Pyrenees region, round Toulouse.
The eastern side of
has a more continental climate, Apart from the mountain areas, it is
generally drier than western France, with winters that are colder and
summers that are hotter, for a given latitude, The south coast of
France benefits from a continental climate moderated by the influence
of the Mediteranean, generally drier than the rest of France, and
without the cold winters of the rest of the continental climate zone.
microclimate of the Riviera
Winds of France
The climate of eastern and southern France is particularly
influenced by the nature and direction of the wind
- La Bise
is the dry east wind that can blow over from central Europe; in winter
it can be bitterly cold, in summer blisteringly hot. Blocked over
France by the Atlantic weather systems and by the Massif Central
- Le Mistral.
Le Mistral is a prolongation towards the south of La Bise, a
wind that blows down the Rhone valley to central Provence for
weeks on end, and in winter can be surprisingly cold.
Tramontane .This is the wind from the north
skirts round the Massif Central or blows over the top of it towards the
- Le Vent
is a wind that blows up from the Mediterranean, and over towards
Toulouse and Bordeaux . It can bring very warm weather in the Autumn,
and cause heavy rainfall if the air is humid.
the extreme southeast of France, the area around Cannes, Nice and
Monaco, benefits from its own microclimate; protected from the Mistral
by the mass of the Alps, the climate on this narrow coastal plain is
pure Mediterranean, with mild winters and warm summers.
The mountain areas of France
like all mountain areas, France's mountain areas have a cooler climate
than surrounding areas, with more precipitation. Since the wet winds in
France are those that come from the west or to a lesser extent from the
south, it is the southern and western sides of the mountain ranges that
are wetter. This is particularly the case with the Massif Central,
whose eastern half is drier. The Cevennes mountains, the south eastern
part of the Massif Central, are generally quit dry, but can receive
deluges of heavy rain if wet air moves up from the Mediterranean, which
happens most often in the Spring or Autumn.
summer, the upland areas of central southern France are generally warm
and sunny, but dramatic skies can brew up on sultry summer afternoons,
often developing into short but spectacular thunder storms.
In the Pyrenees, it is the French side of this range, i.e the north
eastern side, that is wetter than the Spanish side. This is because
moist oceanic air is pulled through southwest France from the Atlantic
to the Mediterranean. In all the mountain areas of France,
thunderstorms are a common feature in summer.
high pressure systems will protect the whole of the continent from
Atlantic low-pressure systems with their wind and rain (coloured
areas). Image from Ventusky.com
With the exception of the areas of mountain climate, which are
determined largely by altitude and topography, the borderlines betwen
the different climate zones of France are variable, and will move north
and south, east and west, depending on the strength of conflicting
weather systems. It is quite possible for the whole of France to come
under the influence of the prevailing Atlantic westerlies, with their
clouds and showers; conversely at other times the whole of France
can be dominated by continental air masses, leaving hardly a cloud in
the sky over the whole country.
FRENCH WEATHER CHAOS IN RECENT
Climates are changing, the planet is heating up. After years of doubt
and scepticism, the ranks of climate-change deniers have dwindled to
all by an ideological few. In France, climatic abnormalities have been
increasingly frequent since the beginning of the 21st century or even
was remarkable for snowfalls in May and
then again in December.
brought its surprises - not
always very good surprises. Winter was really quite
mild, with little snow falling in most parts of France, after the heavy
snows of December 2010. Then Spring came early, very early in some
parts, with mild and warm days setting in from early March in many
regions. By the start of April, large parts of southern France were
enjoying wall-to-wall sunshine with daytime temperatures up in the mid
to high 20s. This marvellous spring weather continued - apart from a
short dip in the middle of May - right through to early June. By then
much of southwest France was reporting a rainfall deficit of up to 60%
compared to seasonal averages, and the harvest of hay in the southern
half of France was down by an equivalent measure, causing a crisis for
livestock farmers throughout the area.
pendulum swung the other way, and during July most of France
experienced cool cloudy weather with rain, thunderstorms and
temperatures well below the seasonal average. Some regions recorded an
average July temperature between 6° and 8° lower
than average for the month - a remarkable variation.
However, after the unusually damp July,
the rest of 2011
was remarkably dry and warm throughout France. Incredibly,
the average temperature in September
2011 was higher than the average temperature for July
unprecedented climatic blip – and the average
November was a full three degrees higher than the normal for the month
- and the warmest November since records began.
was marked by an exceptionally could spell in mid
lasting two weeks, that affected almost the whole country. For several
days, virtually the whole of France lay under snow, and temperatures
fell to below -10°C in much of southwest France, and
colder in more traditionally cold areas. In Paris, the lakes in the
Bois de Boulogne froze solid, enough for people to walk on the ice
(strictly forbidden, of course). Then, a month later, most of southern
France enjoyed over a week in March with daytime temperatures in the
high twenties - more like June - though June itself was remarkably damp
and cool. Not so July, when several parts of southern France recorded
afternoon temperatures over 40°C, with 43° being
recorded in the middle
of Clermont Ferrand at the hottest moment...
- the year it rained...
Not everywhere in France, but over a good part of
western France, Spring brought torrential rainfall and flooding to much
of France. In particular, the Loire valley saw extensive flooding which
led to the very busy A10 Paris-Bordeaux motorway being cut for ten
days. many farmers in the region lost a good proportion of
crops. It was not until mid July that normal summer weather broke out.
After that, there were plenty of sunny and warm days, with the
occasional short heatwave of the type that is now becoming familiar
each summer, with temperatures hitting the 40°C in several
the south of France
Autumn brought its traditional episodes of monsoon-type rain
in the south of France, notably on the Cevennes.
- the hottest ever
And 2019 was the hottest ever summer recorded in France - as in much of